David Calling

The David Pryce-Jones blog.

Why the Russians Are Good Spies


What makes the Russians good at spying? Presumably the same national trait that makes them good chess players. They think ahead. One of their best subterfuges in the Cold War was the placing of agents known as “sleepers,” who were usually young, had a false identity, and were simply left alone to make what career they could. So they put a teenager into South Africa; he joined the navy and became commander of the Simonstown base, a key component in Western defenses. So in West Germany they put in place Günter Guillaume, who after some years became the adviser of Willi Brandt, a man actually longing to be deceived by Communists.

Now post-Cold War Russians are shown to have put in place in the United States a whole ring of agents. Christopher Metsos, no doubt not his real name, was the man who gave them their funds. Arrested in Cyprus, he was bailed for not much more than $20,000, which was small beer to him, to be paid right then and there in cash. The Cypriot judge responsible has some explaining to do. Russia uses Cyprus as an off-shore bank. Of course Metsos has vanished, presumably via the Turkish part of Cyprus, buying his way out.

It’s all very well to joke about these people, and mock them as pseudo-suburbanites with out-of-date techniques who attracted the CIA’s attention and could not achieve anything. It is impossible to know how far they penetrated and whom they may have suborned. The mere fact of their activity also reveals how fatuous it is to babble about the reset button in relations with the Kremlin.

Another thing: A couple of these spies have been passing themselves off as British. The British authorities threw a fit recently when someone cloned British identities in order to kill a Hamas armorer in Dubai, and with impeccable self-righteousness they ordered an Israeli diplomat out of the country. When Russians fake British identity, these same British authorities are merely amused. Now why the disproportion?

And while we’re on disproportion, take today’s International Herald Tribune. I happen to be in Europe right now, and it was available, so I read it, always a mistake. As though the world has no other subject, its paltry pages carry no fewer than three hostile articles about Israel, and also a letter from an Arab in Amman defending Gaza. One article claims that foreign workers in Israel get a bad deal. The second article says the Israelis have messed up, and there is a rift in the government. In the third article, Nicholas D. Kristof outdoes the others. He writes that the Israeli occupation is immoral, wrong, carefully omitting any mention that the occupation exists in the first place only because the former Arab owners came to make war on Israel, were warned not to, but came all the same and now don’t like paying the price for their aggression. Oh, how pleasant it is for a journalist to moralize on matters for which he has no responsibility. I award an annual prize for Outstanding Prig of the Year, and Kristof is a strong contender.

Editor’s note: This item has been amended since its original posting.


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